Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Crank up the traveling music!

I’m going on book tour! I’ve got a frantic few weeks coming up, which I’m actually looking forward to. When I first became a published author, I always felt a little nervous about bookstore readings. Why? Not because I was afraid to speak in front of people. I can natter on for hours, as those who know me can vouch for.

What terrified me was that no one would show up. Well, folks, I’ve been there and done that. Don’t have to worry about it anymore. I’ve heard from some of the most popular authors around, that it happens to them, too. Simon Wood said he would rather have no one at all show up than have only one or two. If no one shows up at least you can pack up your wounded pride and slink home—or to the nearest bar. But if a couple of people show up, you must act as if the room is full and give them the whole talk.

And then there’s the story Robert Crais tells of sitting in a mall with stacks of books, and getting the stink eye from everyone who passed. The one person who stopped asked if he knew where the restroom was.  Books sales? Zero.

Around home I have a loyal pack of friends and fellow writers who will usually turn up. What amazes me is when a lot of people come to see me in a place where I don’t know anyone. Some bookstore owners have terrific promotional skills. They beat the bushes and get lots of people out. (hello Chris Burke at Clues Unlimited in Tucson). And it also amazes me that writer friends will strong-arm a bunch of people to bookstore readings (I’m looking at you Catriona McPherson), and others who show up even if they’re working like crazy (Matt Coyle, Lisa Brackmann).

No matter how popular the author or the bookstore, attendance at readings is a crapshoot. No one knows what makes people flock in one day and a few months later same day, same time, no one shows up.. There are a few things that can definitely skew the results, though:

1)   Weather—I had a few loyal people show up at a bookstore in Phoenix IN AUGUST. But generally that’s a bad time of year for a reading there. On the other hand, I had a terrific turnout in Austin in the middle of a sleet storm—one book club said they had driven an hour on treacherous roads to come to the reading. Go figure.
2)   Competition—the worst showing I ever had I found out I was competing with The Blue Angels, as well as one of the most beautiful days of the year. Who wanted to come out of a glorious Sunday afternoon and into a bookstore—especially since traffic was at a standstill pretty much all over town. Runner up for worst showing was a very cold night in Dallas when no one showed up. At least not for me. They did, however, turn up for Amy Tan down the street.
3)   Lack of promo. It’s up to the author and the bookstore to promote, promote, promote. And as the author you need to make sure the bookstore personnel has done its job. I learned that at my hometown bookstore. I thought I had arranged everything—but my assumption that the bookstore would order my books was totally wrong. Turned out they were used to only hosting independent authors who brought their own stock.
4)   Overexposure. I’ve had books come out in pretty rapid succession, and I realized that no matter how generous friends are, they may not be thrilled to hear me speak yet again. So this time when my book came out, I’ve only booked a couple of events at bookstores. That doesn’t mean I’m hiding out-I have some multi-author events scheduled—but that I’m being judicious.

What I’m learning is to do the best I can and to treat every person who attends as if he or she intends to buy a carton of books to hand out to family and friends.

On that note, I will close so I can get started packing for Southern California. I will be at Mysterious Galaxy tomorrow night and Book Carnival Thursday night. Wish me well!

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